This site provides an
overview of U.S. (and Canadian) streetcar operations; both Vintage Trolley (a.k.a. Heritage Trolley)
and Modern Streetcar. Visit the impressive variety of systems now
in operation and learn about proposals for new systems.
Each page links to local websites and new information is being
added continuously, so check back regularly.
is a Streetcar?
to local public transportation using electric vehicles that run on
rails. Streetcars (called "Tramways" in Europe) are generally designed to provide short-trip urban circulation,
and the vehicles and infrastructure are optimized accordingly. The streetcar
alignment can be located in shared traffic lanes or on a segregated
right-of-way if one is available. Vehicles typically consist of a single
unit, ranging from restored heritage cars to modern multi-section
Streetcars are part of
the ongoing renaissance which is bringing new life to American (and the
centers; as more and more Americans return to the city, the need for new
urban transportation solutions grows ever more important. Transportation
is the key to creating great public places- and cities across the
country are taking a new look at an old idea, the city streetcar.
Whether the streetcar is heritage or modern,
the goal of helping build livable communities remains the same.
Vintage Trolley vehicles bring their own unique aspects
to the table, providing an authentic historic trolley experience that mixes
urban transportation with visitor entertainment. The ratio of this
mixture varies widely; on a few systems vintage trolleys really are
providing a full-fledged transportation function, the vehicles just
happen to have an historic theme.
are Cities Building Streetcar Systems Again?
Streetcar projects are
typically driven by a combination of transit demand and the desire to rejuvenate
urban public spaces. The
coming of the streetcar can help transform the face of the city; the
streetcar provides attractive short-trip urban circulation and becomes a
formative component in reshaping the public space. A streetcar is a
proven way to attract "choice" riders (riders who have ready
access to a car and are not transit dependent), a significant advantage
over rubber-tired alternatives. By connecting together key activity
centers, parking and other forms of transit with convenient service
levels, the streetcar becomes the key to creating a vibrant cityscape
that is attractive to all. Visitors and residents alike can leave
their cars behind and see and
do more within a given district when a convenient streetcar service
connects destinations together. Stops are spaced relatively
close together, and the streetcar thus becomes a "pedestrian
accelerator", facilitating trips that are part walking, part
In addition to their mobility
benefits, streetcars have an
excellent track record of being a catalyst for positive urban change
when integrated with land use policy and greater coordination of all
transport modes. The
nature of the rail infrastructure implies permanence- it's going to be there
as a community resource for the long run. This can be a key ingredient
communities leverage public/private investment and organize development
around a defined corridor. The streetcar is also highly visible, has an easily understood route, and the
quiet, pollution-free electric vehicles blend in well with the community.
Streetcar systems are also
much less expensive to build and operate than conventional rail systems.
Infrastructure is simpler, and the relative ease of integration into the
built urban environment results in a significantly lower cost per mile
than higher capacity, regional- serving light rail systems. Of course all
transit modes (buses and heavy rail included) have their place,
and a combination of modes is necessary to achieve a
comprehensive system. Some
cities are also using a streetcar as a precursor to a new light rail system,
offering a lower-cost "demonstrator" line that can later be
extended or incorporated into a larger system.
systems might also be considered hybrid streetcar / light rail (a.k.a.
incorporating aspects of both approaches including sections where tracks
are segregated from roadway traffic to achieve higher operating speeds.
Accompanying the growing
nationwide interest in streetcar systems, the marketplace has many choices in
new streetcar vehicles. Check out the vehicles
page on the modernstreetcar.org website for a comprehensive overview
of modern streetcar vehicles now available in North America.
Entire fleets of replica
heritage cars have also been produced; the New Orleans RTA
partnered with suppliers and built 23 of its own cars in
2002. Other cities, such as Philadelphia, opted for a total rebuild
of vintage PCC type streetcars, stripping them to a shell and applying
new equipment to create what is essentially a new car. Costs for a
replica car currently begin around $900,000 for an air conditioned
double-truck vehicle (using rebuilt vintage running gear and modern
control equipment). A typical diesel transit bus costs about half as
much, but has a shorter service life (17 years vs. 30 for trolley /
streetcar / LRV). A modern streetcar typically costs
between $3.5 and $4.5M.
Check the Replica
Trolley Cars page for a complete roster of all replica heritage cars built to
date, with facts and figures (including cost) on each.
Capacity: 88 passengers;
seated, 44 standing
Vehicles: Heritage or Modern?
New streetcar vehicles come in both "Modern" or "Heritage"
form, although in 2012 virtually all new systems are opting for modern
vehicles. The reasons are multi-fold; the better accessibility, higher
capacity and improved performance of modern vehicles are, not
surprisingly, seen as major advantages.
Modern streetcar vehicles are also
much more readily available in the U.S. today than in the 1990s and
early 2000s. Back then, replica
heritage cars provided the Buy America-compliant solution for US
agencies wanting to buy streetcar vehicles . In 2012,
a lot has changed; the major world suppliers are now able to provide modern
streetcar vehicles that will meet Buy America and other demands of the
In Canada, Toronto is in the process of buying
more than 200 new 100% low-floor streetcars from Bombardier to
completely re-equip their fleet. Also, United
Streetcar has now introduced a US-manufactured version of the Skoda-Inekon
streetcar previously imported here from the Czech Republic and Inekon
has partnered with a local Seattle firm to assemble
streetcars there. Brookville
Equipment has also announced it will begin manufacturing modern
cities (such as Portland) have also operated both heritage and modern cars on the same
route. Both vehicle types utilize essentially the same
infrastructure; the tracks and overhead wire are easily integrated into the built urban environment using relatively
low-impact construction techniques. Both heritage and modern cars can be
air conditioned, and both can provide a comfortable ride given the short
trip times involved. In the final analysis, a host of local factors will play into the
decision of which vehicle type should be used, but both can provide
effective urban circulation that is attractive to riders and helps
promote livable cities.
There are also significant differences in vehicle cost
and complexity, a modern replica car selling from about $900,000
and a modern articulated streetcar at between $3.5 - 4.5M (the vehicle
is also longer with higher capacity, see sidebar). It should also be noted that the technology gap is narrowing,
with replica heritage cars becoming increasingly modern
"under the hood".
The APTA Streetcar Subcommittee is helping to
develop guidelines for the introduction of modern streetcar vehicles in
North America, check out the ModernStreetcar.org
website for more details.
For more background
information on streetcars, Reconnecting America has published an excellent book entitled "Street Smart: Streetcars and Cities in the 21st Century",
available via their website. Their site also has a link to the excellent
Tram in Europe" document. Also check out the APTA
Streetcar & Heritage Trolley website and the ModernStreetcar.org
website from the APTA Streetcar Subcommittee.
For an interesting discussion
of streetcars in the context of urban planning, check out Transit
and Sustainable Urbanism from Reconnecting America. There is also the
Rail Transit Association website from the UK, and LRTA publishes a
phenomenal monthly magazine "Tramways
& Urban Transit". For additional information on
the advantages of rail transit in general, browse over to the Light Rail Now!
For a sampling of European tramway
systems and vehicles, check out these excellent photo websites:
Finally, check out our Report
from InnoTrans 2010 in Berlin for information on the expo and some
photographs of Berlin's world-renowned transit system.